Our tour guide took us through the process items go through once they are excavated. Items are first brought to the archive and stored until funding is available to wash and catalog them. Occasionally, it can take up to six years before items are washed. Buckets of dirt are also brought in from excavation sites and sifted through. Any bugs or tiny items found in the dirt, such as beads, are saved and recorded. In order to save space, the archive doesn't keep every item excavated, but everything is recorded.
Recently, the archive had just gotten some items from an excavation in central London. One of the items was a portion of Roman tiled floor. It was over 2000 years old and still looked beautiful!
A portion of a Roman floor
Next, our guide took us into the storage area where items are stored after they've been washed and recorded. We were able to see how materials are stored and labeled. Our guide also showed us how they are improving storage. Older items are stored in boxes that are not acid free, and can damage them over time. Volunteers at the archive are moving the collection from the old boxes into new ones. This area of the tour was particularly interesting for me, because I used to work in a museum doing this exact same thing. We also got to see some very cool items from the collection. We even got to touch a brick that still had ash on it from the fire of 1666! Some of the other interesting items we saw included a medieval bone ice skate, a trinket from the crusades, and some Tudor period pewter.
Touching a brick from the fire of 1666
The Guinness World Record
LAARC is the largest archaeological collection in the world-- and they have the Guinness World Record to prove it! They have over 200,000 boxes in the archive. Each box contains between 50-100 items. The items are organized by the year they were excavated. All excavations are listed on their online catalog. All human remains are stored at the Museum of London, because they have an osteologist on site. Our tour guide also took us into a storage area containing old toys and electronic equipment. They even had an old switchboard from Buckingham Palace!
LAARC was a very interesting class. It was exciting to see that the same preservation techniques that my small museum used were also being used by a major archive. It was also fun to see some of the items they had on display and learn about the processes museums go through when building their collections.